The makeup of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council is 7-5. There are seven white republican members of the council and five black democrats. As a result, republicans control the destiny of Baton Rouge in large part. The council approves the majority of contracts and all ordinances for the city of Baton Rouge, and the parish of East Baton Rouge. The dynamics of the council makeup have the potential to change, due to the unfortunate death of District 8 council member Buddy Armoroso, who was killed in an accident while riding his bike in neighboring West Feliciana Parish on Saturday, June 30th. Amoroso was 61.
According to state law, “when a vacancy occurs in the membership of a city or parish school board, the remaining members of the board shall within twenty days declare that the vacancy has occurred and proceed to appoint a person who meets the qualifications of the office to fill the vacancy.” As a result, the metro council is set to have a special meeting following their scheduled zoning meeting on July 18, 2018, to pick a replacement for Armoroso.
Historically, when a council member has died the council has looked to the spouse of the member to see if either the spouse would like to serve the remainder of the term, or if the spouse has a recommendation for the replacement. Martha Jane Tassin was appointed to the council back in 2001 after the death of her husband, Mike Tassin who died of cancer while serving as councilman for district 6 for two terms. Martha Jane Tassin would go on to serve district 6 for two terms after that, until she was defeated by Donna Collins-Lewis back in 2008. Collins-Lewis was the first black council member to serve as council member for district 6.
There have been references that the council may consider going the same route with Armoroso’s appointment, but the advantage of making the decision rest with the 5 black council members for the first time in history. When Mike Tassin died back in 2001 there were only 4 black democrats as members of the metro council, which gave the advantage to conservatives who had at the time 7 living white republican members of the council. Which meant the chances of appointing anyone other than Tassin were mute. The council could make the decision to appoint without any of the black democrats support back in 2001, because they had 7 votes.
With Collins-Lewis now holding the position that was held by the Tassin family, black democrats have the opportunity for the first time in history to influence the makeup of the metro council in Baton Rouge.
To make the appointment to the council, there must be a majority vote. Unless one of the black democrats agrees to votes to support the nominee to replace Armoroso, the appointment goes to Governor John Bel Edwards, who is a democrat. According to state law, “If a vacancy is not filled within the time specified in RS 18:602 Subsection A, B, or C of this Section, the governor shall fill the vacancy.”
This is to the advantage of the black democrats of the council. It is highly unlikely that republicans will offer a candidate that is not a republican and historically republicans have looked to the widow of the member of the council. If there is not a consensus and the council doesn’t make an appointment the decision goes to the governor according to the law.
Political leaders almost always appoint someone within their political party to fill vacant seats. It is the right of the governor to appoint whom he choses. Which Gov. Edwards could appoint a black democrat, which would be historic and for the first time in history give Baton Rouge a racially and politically split metro council. This scenario gives Baton Rouge the opportunity at least for the next 9 months to see what a racially balanced council would produce for the citizens of Baton Rouge.
The ball is in the court of the black democrats on the council to influence the make up of the metro council moving forward. If the democrats remain united, they can force a potential historic change for the city of Baton Rouge. If they are divided, potentially history will repeat itself and the widow of the council member will decide the destiny of the parish if she chooses to make a recommendation to the council.
The council will meet on July 18, 2018 to decide if they will make an appointment to the council. If the council members cannot agree on a candidate to serve the next 9 months, the decision goes to Governor John Bel Edwards, who would then have the opportunity to make history by appointing a balanced council. Or the governor could go with what has been the status quo in Baton Rouge and appoint a republican to serve the term. The choice is his, if the council does not appoint.
It all comes down to where the 5 black council members fall on the potential nominees for the appointment to replace Armoroso. No council members democrats or republicans have publicly said where they stand on the issue, or potential nominees.
Several names that have floated around political circles as possible candidates other than family members of Armoroso are former council member for district 8 Mike Walker. Walker unsuccessfully ran against former Mayor Kip Holden for mayor in 2012. Antoine Pierce is another name rumored to be a potential candidate to fill the seat. Pierce ran unsuccessfully against Armoroso in 2016.
Conservatives could well be considering a compromise candidate considering the decision will need bi-partisan support. The council has been deeply divided over the past few years, and political insider believe that is highly unlikely. Will the council make an appointment or will they make history by sending the appointment to Gov. Edwards? Baton Rouge will find out in the next few weeks.
The person appointed by either the council or the governor will serve until the special election to be held in March of 2019.